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Hemi and more: the 2002-2008 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup trucks

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by David Zatz

The 2002 Ram 1500 wasn't a styling coup, but it did have some gains:

  • Bigger, four-way disc brakes with longer-lasting brake pads and rotors
  • A frame with hydroformed parts
  • A more powerful, and much newer, V6 engine
  • Better child seat facilities and optional side airbags
  • A new grille for each body style
  • Rack and pinion steering with an independent front suspension

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The powertrain gains were quite hefty, and spanned the full range. The new V6 had 40 horsepower more than the old one; the new 4.7 liter V8 had slightly more horsepower and gained 1 mpg over the old 5.2 "318;" and, in December 2002, the new 5.7 liter "Hemi" V8 debuted, with more power than the prior top-of-the-line V8.

The Quad Cab lost three inches in the cargo box (now 6 feet, 3 inches), but the cab grew by 3.7 inches for the benefit of rear seating, over the 1994-2001 series.

The Ram gained fully-lowering rear windows, under-rear-seat storage, large grocery bag hooks in the regular cab, and an augmented console that could store a laptop and charge a cell phone. Allpar member JTE added that some aspects of the 2002 DR were aimed at women and families:

  • Adding 100mm to the cab / back seat
  • Removing 100mm from the box kept the length and wheelbase steady
  • Lowering the 4x4 to the 4x2 height eased entry, and saved money by reducing the required number of frames
  • Using conventional rear doors eliminated the "door dance" while loading the second row in the mall parking lot.

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The back story, according to JTE:

The B-pillar swing and the 100mm shift in the cab / box split were ideas that came out of my department and had to be "sold" to management. We built a test truck with a C-pillar swung door on the right and a B-pillar swung door on the left, parked it between two other cars, then surveyed everyone's opinion at JTE. The biggest obstacle was apprehension of the market's acceptance to being the first club cab sized truck with conventional rear doors.

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After the door swing was accepted, we then built the 100mm shifted [from bed to interior] buck. Some people thought a box less than six feet would be detrimental to some buyers, but we loaded a tech's dirt bike in the back then took it to a meeting to show management, then it was all of a sudden okay. Everyone loved the extra room in the back seat and the storage opportunities it brought.
The fenders read simply "Ram 1500," a harbinger of the future.

2002 - 2008 Dodge Ram 1500 drivetrain

The 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 started out with the 45RFE automatic from the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It was a pleasant transmission, which, including a passing gear, actually had five speeds. At the time, Allpar reported that it was both more responsive and smoother than the older transmissions; the only downside was not being able to order it with the 360 engine.

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The 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 started with the 3.7 liter V6 - smaller but more powerful than the old 3.9, with 210 horsepower instead of 175. The 3.7 was based on the new 4.7 V8, just as the old 3.9 was based on the 5.2 V8. Both V6 engines had the same torque, 230 lb-ft. The new engine was more fuel efficient by about 1 mpg, as well as more powerful.

The 3.7 liter V6 displaced 225.6 cid - the press materials refered to it that way, in a reminder of the old 225 slant six, though all other displacements were rounded off.

The 4.7 V8 from the Grand Cherokee replaced the 318, increasing power slightly (to 235 hp) while raising gas mileage, again by 1 mpg. This was a smooth, quiet engine on the Grand Cherokee, more pleasant to drive than the older but recently updated 318.

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The Ram 1500's towing capacity was 350 pounds above the Silverado and F-150, but its payload was about 160 pounds less than the Chevy and 125 pounds less than the Ford. Its base V8 had 235 horsepower, 35 hp less than the Chevy and 15 hp more than the Ford.

The 2003 Dodge Ram 1500 options included both the 360 V8 and (starting with December 2002) the new Hemi V8 engine, which had more power (345 hp) and better economy - and cheaper assembly costs (review). The 5.7-liter "Hemi Magnum" increased the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) to 14,000 pounds, 500 more than the previous pickups. The Gross Trailer Weight Rating (GTWR) increased, by 550 pounds, to 9200 pounds. Fuel efficiency rose by 10%; and the new Hemi was around sixty pounds lighter than the 360.

.Regular CabQuad Cab
Model Year1994-20012002-20061994-20012002-2006
Dodge Ram pickup transmissions (2002-2008)

Buyers could still get manual transmissions in their full-size pickups - an NV3500 unit, built and engineered by Chrysler's New Venture Gear. It was available on every engine but the Hemi.

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The 545RE transmission, which had debuted in 1999 on the Grand Cherokee, was only available with the Hemi. This highly responsive, fully electronically controlled five-speed automatic (plus kickdown gear) provided fast downshifts and seemed to have fewer parasitic losses than the other automatics. If you didn't get the Hemi, you had to settle for the standard 45RE automatic, a close relative.

4x4 independent front suspension

Rack and pinion steering on both the two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive Ram models provided a precise and firm steering feel. The system was not only lighter in weight but was more durable than a conventional recirculating ball steering system. Steering ratios were recalibrated on all models, helping maneuverability and turning ease.

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A new torsion bar independent front suspension on four-wheel drive models improved ride quality and quietness. Ground clearance was a comfortable 9.5 inches, while suspension travel rose by half an inch, to 8.5 inches, from the 2001 Ram. The rear suspension leaf springs were lengthened by three inches to reduce wheel hop and improve durability.

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The 2002 Ram had an independent front suspension even with the four wheel drive setup, joining a very small number of 4x4s with independent suspensions - such as the Hummer and Tatra 615. Bob Sheaves noted that an independent front suspension-equipped 4x4 need not sacrifice ground clearance, thanks to the floating carrier housing patented by Chrysler (listing Evan Boberg as an inventor) in 1995.

Seventeen inch wheels were standard, with optional 20-inch wheels. The frame was stiffer, and as one would expect from Chrysler, noise, vibration, and harshness were all cut quite a bit.

Other new Dodge Ram 1500 features

The most welcomed change among those who didn't own a Dodge Ram were the new brakes, which could stop the Ram faster than an F-150 or Silverado 1500. Chrysler added adjustable pedals, redesigning the frame and crumple zones, making the interior child-friendly, improving the brakes, and adding side curtain airbags.

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The two-door Club Cab was replaced by an extended-cab four-door model, with four real doors. The bed on the standard 1500 was three inches shorter, compensating for the 3.5-inch longer cab.

The Quad Cab had car-like doors and seat cushions that folded up to create a tall storage area. An optional steel section under the rear seats could fold open to form a flat load floor, with more storage in the footwells. The seat folded 60/40 to allow for carrying passengers and gear in the back at the same time. The powered center console had fold-down dividers, and the center portion of the seat had under-cushion storage.

Aerodynamics changes included an integrated air dam to cool the engine and air conditioner; and door frame edges which reduce wind noise and channeled water over the roof instead of the side windows. Headlights were upgraded.

Options included four-wheel antilock brakes, dual-zone climate control, an electronic shift dial for four wheel drive, and heated leather seats.

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For 2003, the 1500 SLT Plus was rebadged as Laramie on Regular and Quad Cab. There were also cosmetic touches, seventeen inch aluminum wheels, eight-way power leather seats (driver only, except on Quad Cab), four-wheel antilock disc brakes, overhead console, map lights, universal garage door opener, compass, temperature display, and trip computer, sliding rear window, remote keyless entry, alarm, woodgrain instrument panel bezel, dual zone temperature control, six-CD in-dash changer, wheel-mounted audio controls, and power adjustable pedals included in the Laramie package.

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The "Work Special" Group had grey bumpers with rear step pad, grey grille and wheels. The Off Road Group (4x4 only) included a 3.92 axle ratio, anti-spin differential, fog lamps, heavy-duty engine cooling, all-terrain tires, 17" x 8" aluminum wheels, tow hooks, transfer case and front suspension skid plates.

Tow hooks were standard on Laramie 4WD, and otherwise part of the Protection Group. Steering wheel-mounted audio controls were included with some audio packages in the SLT; buyers could opt for an Infinity stereo. Seat belts gained an automatic-locking retractor.

The 2004 Dodge Laramie package added an all-chrome grille surround and chrome billet grille center; the Laramie also added, from SLT, chrome bodyside moldings, silver interior trim accents, and leather seats with higher contrast color seat inserts. Exhaust gas recirculation was added to the Hemi engine - Dodge claimed it was to add efficiency.

Hands-free cell systems and a radio/navigation system became available on the 2004s, along with a full-time four-wheel drive system and electric shift two-speed transfer case (48/52 front/rear torque split under normal conditions). A new "Tow/Haul" had crisper shifts and reduced gear searching when towing; and a new 34-gallon gas tank was optional on Ram Quad Cab standard bed trucks.

Dodge Ram Daytona

The original Dodge Charger Daytona set a 200+ mph speed record and won numerous NASCAR races; buyers could get a 160-180 mph top speed out of the showroom. The 2005 Dodge Ram Daytona was hardly the same thing, but added 20-inch chrome wheels, unique paint, an 11 inch rear spoiler, a hood scoop, Borla exhaust with side-exiting chrome tips, a body-colored grille, and tail lamp guards.

The only colors were Go ManGo! and metallic silver; the same colors were used on the dash center bezels, and each truck had a numbered dash plaque. It was sold in rear and four wheel drive, with regular and Quad Cab, and six foot beds. The Hemi had the usual 345 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque, and pushed power through a five speed automatic and 3.92:1 rear axle ratio. The price started at $32,000.

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